An Open Letter to Book Pirates…

Dear Book Pirates,

You suck.

This should come as absolutely no surprise to you, at least, not from an author. Nor do I expect it to make a difference, since you seem to have this impermeable air of entitlement that allows you to believe what you do is somehow okay and that we authors are just a whiny, overprivileged lot.

An independent observer might think that we’re merely two sides at odds who misunderstand each other.

They’d be half right.

Because trust me, most authors? We understand book pirates. And we hate what you represent with every fiber of our being. Whereas book pirates? You don’t understand shit. Your willful and deliberate obtuseness keeps you from understanding that for every book you pirate, every download you facilitate, you’re contributing to the possible demise of that author’s career.

I’m not going to go into any painful, long breakdowns of how, exactly you cost us our livelihood. There are any number of posts and different articles around the internet that break down precisely how it hurts us. Seanan McGuire’s recent post is but one excellent example.

Look, I’m not naive enough to assume that every time a book is downloaded that it’s a lost sale. I know probably two-thirds or more of those people would have never bought my book and that they’re only downloading it because it’s there. It’s free. Like that guy who trolls the open bar at every wedding but would never dream of actually ponying up cash for a round at any other time. As long as someone else is paying, it doesn’t matter to him. Also? I’m a cynic. I’m not going to believe that bullshit some book pirates try to spew as justification that by pirating my books, it’s potentially broadening my audience, bringing my name to those who might not ever seen it otherwise. That you’re bringing books to the masses who can’t afford the overinflated prices of books.

I mean, come on. Are you hearing yourselves? Do you actually believe that nonsense? That you’re providing some sort of selfless public service?

Got news for you—libraries provide a public service. And they’ve paid for my books.

Do you honestly believe that someone spotting my name or book on an illegal file sharing site and maybe downloading the content is really going to go out and then buy my books or my backlist? Got a bridge in Brooklyn with your name on it, if you do.

Here’s the thing though—for every sale I do lose—it matters. It’s deeply important to me at this stage of my career because every sale matters towards my next potential contract, as in, whether I get one or not.

Not that a pirate cares.

After all, you’re just sticking it to the Man for charging too much for books. (Never mind that authors have no control over that.)

You’re just biding time until you have money to actually buy the physical book. (Except by the time you have the money, there’ll be another book, another author, and besides, you have my book already. Or perhaps there’s a movie you want to see, popcorn and Jujubes to buy and all that.)

There are always going to be other authors and other books. (True, but I’ll allow myself a moment of arrogance and say, they’re not me. And if it’s me you like, specifically, then you may well end up out of luck.)

They’re just words. Speech is free, haven’t we heard? (Not what freedom of speech means, you tool.)

They’re my words. And my worlds. And my creativity. And my time.

This is not merely an avocation, it’s my vocation. For those of you not understanding the big words, it’s my job.

How would you feel if your employer chose not to pay you your job wages for… say, a week or two… simply because you’ve done that same job the previous fifty or fifty-one weeks of the year? After all, it’s no big deal. You’ll do the same job the next week and you’ll get paid for it then. It all balances itself out.

Would you accept that explanation? Would you?

You know the answer to that. You know you wouldn’t. Hell, if you’re due paid vacation time, you’d squawk like a mad thing if you don’t get the money to which you’re entitled for sitting around and doing nothing.

So why on earth would you expect me to not fight for money that is rightfully mine? That I am due for doing my job?

Right. Because authors are overprivileged ninnies getting paid for sitting around and doing nothing. After all, writing a book is easy.

And if you believe that, I’ve still got that bridge in Brooklyn.

Oh, and by the way…

You suck.

No love,

Me.

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25 thoughts on “An Open Letter to Book Pirates…

  1. Forget book pirates I just wish the @#$% publisher would pay me in the first place. The book has been out for two years and on several best seller lists. Do not tell me they don’t have the money to honor the contract.

  2. Right on, Barb! You know it. And no matter how many witless pirates show up here to tell you how wrong you are, remember: This post? could stop just one person from ever doing it again. So, thank you!

  3. Wow, that was freakin’ awesome! There’s nothing better than seeing one of your favorite authors go off. I buy all my books there’s just something about having it in your hands that’s just….I don’t even know but its amazing. There are always those who try an justify their wrong doings but that’s just more fuel to the fire to tell them off an show them how ignorant they are. I will never doubt the skills someone has to write a book, especially a book I love.

  4. AMEN!!! I have to report pirated links contantly to S&S–sometimes it’s the same person hitting up all the share sites in a week. One site had downloaded over 50,000 copies of three of my books. So depressing. And yes, they wouldn’t have all made real sales, but I make between .54 to .60 cents a book–that’s it.

  5. I’m a writer, and I don’t think it’s just some silly misunderstanding. But to suggest that you understand everything while people who pirate books understand nothing just reproduces the problem. Piracy is wrong, and we should absolutely fight to protect our intellectual property and get paid for what we do.

    But let’s not pretend that villainizing the other side–no matter how villainous the other side side may be–is actually going to make progress toward a solution. Someone has to decide to be the bigger person, set aside the hot feelings, and really be smart about approaching the situation. Whichever side does that first will come out on top, so I’d really like to see it be the content producers.

    I agree with you, but I want a real solution to happen sooner rather than later. Part of me cheered when I read this, but part of me just sighed in disappointment. Catharsis like this is good for writers, but bad for actually solving the problem.

    • I want a real solution, too, make no mistake about that. However, there’s no denying that this is a Hydra of a problem; you cut one head off and two more spring forth. And because there are so many varied issues, there’s no one uniform solution.

      I’m not sure what you mean by content provider—do you mean writers, as the ones who provide the raw material or the publishers, as the entities who provide the actual physical content that’s being pirated? If you mean the former, I think we’d have a stronger stand if we had a central union that could speak to our concerns. I think we’re the one arm of the entertainment industry that doesn’t have a union that speaks for us. Maybe that’s one place to start.

      With respect to the publishers, I think they have to first come to a consensus, as a whole, as to what constitutes fair and equitable pricing for e-books and as Julie said, a fair royalty for authors. I would (and I’m only half joking) liken this to herding cats. I do believe that there are costs involved that are unique to producing e-books, but they’re probably minimal, comparatively speaking. I also agree that DRM is problematic and keeps people from sharing e-books in the way that they would a print book and only serves to amuse hackers.

      However– all that said, and feel free to think me a cynic, I don’t think piracy is ever going to completely go away because people will continue to pirate because they can. They think that because they see it on the internet, that they’re entitled to it. Over and over we see a demonstrable disregard for digitally produced content, such gross misconceptions, even people who should know better make the mistake of taking other people’s work without compensation. Not precisely the same, but the Cook’s Source Magazine debacle, where the editor made the statement that everything on the internet is public domain, stands as but one example. I mean, if someone who purports to be a publishing professional makes such a hugely incorrect assumption, why should we assume that Joe Average on the street is going to think any differently?

      So there it is– my measured response. I don’t think there’s any easy solution to this. Unlike Julie, I don’t think it’s simply about lowering prices– I think that might take care of a huge chunk of the problem, but I think even if the perfect, all-encompassing solution presented itself, piracy wouldn’t magically go away. I think the only real way that piracy is going to be dealt any kind of measurable blow is to have heavy legal ramifications, but in order to have that, we have to have a central organization that can speak with one, unified voice on our behalf and even then, there’s no guarantee. Sadly, I think in the end, there’s an inherent lack of respect for what we do. All you have to do is think of all the people who think it’s so easy to write a book. That they could toss off a novel “if only…”

      • So true!!! All of it. I don’t think lowering prices and making books available, primarily overseas, is going to solve the problem entirely. I’m just hoping that like iTunes and music, it will make a dent. The ease of availability and lower prices (because you can buy one song rather than a whole album) offered by iTunes put a dent in music piracy. At least, that’s what I’ve read. Maybe it’s not true.

        I agree with you, Barb. There have to be legal ramifications…just like there were with music. It’s only right because, well, dammit, it’s the LAW.

  6. akh, I appreciate your point of view, but I think you’re wrong. I’ve read a lot about piracy and trust me, they don’t understand, just like Caridad says..and they don’t want to. They concede nothing. They spend a lot of time justifying their theft…esp. the ones who CHARGE for the pirated books, which is a clear violation of copyright. I think a hard stance like this is the only way to go.

    The only thing that will stop piracy, IMO, is ease of legal downloading (go away, DRM) and great prices. Great prices aren’t going to happen until the publishers stop trying to pad their bottom lines with money from digital books (which hasn’t happened yet, but they’re hoping for big paydays in the future) and start paying authors a more fair royalty on digital releases. I don’t mind 8% of 7.99 for a mass market paperback, but I resent 8% on a 7.99 digital book when I know that the price keeps a lot of readers from buying and no matter what publishers claim, I don’t believe the cost to produce a digital book is equal to the cost of a print book. Readers have already shelled out for the digital reader. They want books at a discount. Now, pay me 40% of 3.99 and we’re talking.

    My bottom line is this: I don’t believe pirates are pirating for any altruistic reasons. They do it because they can and because they do not believe in intellectual property rights laws. They’re “sticking it to the man,” only in this case, the “man” includes me and I don’t appreciate it. But I do think that readers might stop illegally downloading if they have better alternatives.

    But then, I could be dreaming… 🙂

    • Julie, I can’t help but notice that you used objective, measured, relatively un-emotional arguments to make your point. 🙂

      I agree that getting rid of obtrusive drm and setting appropriate price points are exactly the kinds of changes that will reduce piracy. I’m just saying that neither of those requires vitriol or name calling. The cathartic parts feel good for us, but thoughtful, evidence based, circumspect comments like you made here are what actually moves us toward change.

      That doesn’t mean we should like pirates or think they’re altruistic or good people or anything like that. It just means the solution isn’t about improving their quality of character–it’s about improving the economic and technological circumstances that produce the behavior.

      Very well said.

      • I’m a fairly measured person when I’m posting in public on someone else’s blog, LOL. But if I were sharing margaritas with Barb, I’d be using all the same language she is. Yes, I agree that better price point and availability will help…but it’s a damned shame that WE have to do anything and that pirates can’t, I don’t know, not pirate because it’s both ethically wrong and illegal, to boot!

        I’m not backing down on my opinion, however, it shouldn’t really be up to us to make the changes. We’re not doing anything wrong. I mean, just because a LeCrueset pot sells for $200 and I can’t afford it doesn’t mean I have the right to march into a William Sonoma and take one–or worse, walk into your kitchen and take it.

        If the pirates could just acknowledge this…maybe then we can work together. But until that happens, authors are going to contine to be pissed. And I think we have every right.

  7. Hey. Devil’s advocate here. – How do you know?

    Sure, the moral argument is easy – reading someone’s book without paying – immoral.

    But to draw a chain of causality between piracy and lost sales, that’s harder. As you say: “Look, I’m not naive enough to assume that every time a book is downloaded that it’s a lost sale”

    Unfortunately you then say “Also? I’m a cynic. I’m not going to believe that bullshit some book pirates try to spew as justification that by pirating my books, it’s potentially broadening my audience, bringing my name to those who might not ever seen it otherwise.”

    Well, quite right not to believe them if they say that’s their primary justification. But it’s an undeniable fact. More eyes on book = broader audience.

    “That you’re bringing books to the masses who can’t afford the overinflated prices of books.”

    But this is another undeniable fact – most piracy in America probably doesn’t do this, but as you can see from the conversation that starts here: http://www.jimchines.com/2011/01/arguing-book-piracy/#comment-35580
    that’s a very Amerocentric and Westerncentric view. In many parts of the world it’s a simple fact of life.

    “Do you honestly believe that someone spotting my name or book on an illegal file sharing site and maybe downloading the content is really going to go out and then buy my books or my backlist?”

    Yes, absolutely. Do you have any evidence to suggest that they won’t? As a small sample I have bought Trigun, Radiohead, REM, Angel, Scrubs, The Armando Iannucci Show and many more, after watching them pirated. Your 0 anecdotes loses to my 1 anecdote, and until you get some proper evidence, we’re just spouting hot air.

    “After all, you’re just sticking it to the Man for charging too much for books. (Never mind that authors have no control over that.)”

    If they’re sticking it to the Man, then they probably see you as a collaborator. No worries there.

    “You’re just biding time until you have money to actually buy the physical book. (Except by the time you have the money, there’ll be another book, another author, and besides, you have my book already. Or perhaps there’s a movie you want to see, popcorn and Jujubes to buy and all that.)”

    As a person who doesn’t pirate, and has no stats about the buying habits of pirates ‘intending to buy later’ you have no experience or evidence to make this speculation. Here’s a study, sample size: Me. – I have not always bought things after trying them, but I have done many a time, and more often than I ever buy things sight unseen. Proves nothing but is still 100% more real than your speculations.

    “How would you feel if your employer chose not to pay you your job wages for… say, a week or two… “

    I would get another job. I have had one person attempt to underpay me severely, and I have never worked for them again (always demand a contract!)

    If the publishing industry collapses, just like the Horse and Cart industry and the Papyrus industry, then that sucks, society will be poorer for it. But you have no moral claim on being paid for doing what you want to do. If there is no money in writing, then there is no money in writing. We can pass laws to make sure that money remains in writing, but if we cannot enforce them, and people decide that they will not pay for infinitely available goods, then that’s progress. It’s not always great, but it always happens.

    /Devil’s advocate. I don’t pirate books, and I empathise with your pain.

    • I appreciate that you have arguments based on your own experiences—that you do often pay for things you download by other means—and that you differentiate that pirating as a socially/morally acceptable construct is different in other parts of the world than in America. I’m also aware that certain groups (those that are more fandom-based) do tend to overall purchase more. However, that’s not my audience and even if it were, it doesn’t negate one inescapable fact: regardless of how one spins it, pirating is still, at its most base level, stealing. A product is being taken without the merchant being compensated.

      Should there be changes in publishing? Of course. There are always going to be changes and right now, we’re in the midst of a sea change. But I wonder, even amongst the sea changes, if things were made “easier” or more “fair” financially speaking or with respect to availability (since those seem to be the two most cited reasons for piracy), would that really stop illegal pirating?

      From what I’ve seen (and contrary to what one might imagine, I’ve experienced the attitudes of many book pirates including some who have tried to convince me face-to-face of the rightness of their actions) I suspect that there are a large number who would continue to pirate, simply because they can. And that, I simply don’t understand.

      I don’t think we’re going to necessarily agree, but I do appreciate your comments and appreciate the nudge about responding. Sorry I didn’t see this response when it originally appeared. /Outlook is the debbil

      • Yeah, I can see how you would have a very different perspective if your audience does not skew to the pirate-then-buy demographic.

        “regardless of how one spins it, pirating is still, at its most base level, stealing. A product is being taken without the merchant being compensated

        I’m not sure I would agree with that. A product is being copied without the merchant being compensated. That’s not stealing in my eyes. (Ethically, not legally) – but it’s unethical for other reasons.
        Would you consider it stealing if I developed book-telepathy, and went around reading books from a distance with the power of my mind? I would consider that unethical, but certainly not ‘stealing’

        “But I wonder, even amongst the sea changes, if things were made “easier” or more “fair” financially speaking or with respect to availability (since those seem to be the two most cited reasons for piracy), would that really stop illegal pirating?”

        I agree that it wouldn’t stop all piracy. Some people are just thieves, and they will steal both physical goods and copy intellectual property. Other people are poor, and reject the capitalist argument “I have been successful/very lucky in this life, therefore I deserve to have more of this infinitely copyable resource because I can pay for it. Even though you taking it harms no-one, as the other option is you just don’t get it at all”

        A lot of others will though. I know many people who have become more well off (largely by becoming adults) who have gone from habitual pirates to rare downloaders of things they can’t get legally.
        Other people just won’t want to tangle with dodgy download sites, if what they want is available from safe, legal and accessible sites.
        And I don’t think that the majority of people are happy to pirate when the option of being ethical exists. If the perception is that you are paying a reasonable price for a worthwhile (non-DRM ruined) good, I think a large percentage of people will actually want to pay for it, as people do like to support that which they like.

        “I suspect that there are a large number who would continue to pirate, simply because they can. And that, I simply don’t understand”

        Non-forward looking scum. If you don’t support that which you love, it will wither and die.

        Although, an argument could certainly be made that the pay-per-copy model of literature has been rendered obsolete by the progress of technology, and that the only economically viable option is to change to a model such as pre-pay, where fans ‘hire’ an author by pre-paying for a book. Once that book is produced it is distributed to everyone who paid for it, and subsequently they may do what they like with it, as they have paid for it.
        This would be very different from our current model, but not unworkable I think. Of course authors would have to build a fan base with free fiction, or whip up support via samples and pitches for the kinds of stories people are looking for. But piracy would no longer be an issue as the author would be relinquishing the control over the book that is almost impossible to enforce. And would be paid for it.

    • I’m sorry– I’ve been having email issues and have apparently missed some responses. It wasn’t my intent to ignore any potential discussion at all. If you’ll allow an opportunity for the coffee to kick in, I’ll take a look at your earlier response.

      Sorry again.

  8. Pingback: Thief, we have our rights, Thief, thief, thief! « Cheap Ass Fiction

  9. Pingback: Online Piracy --- discussion - Page 8 - Science Fiction Fantasy Chronicles: forums

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